SALT LAKE CITY — The day after the Utah Legislature swiftly passed a drastically altered bill that would control the development of an inland port in Salt Lake City's northwest quadrant that left city leaders reeling, Gov. Gary Herbert said he intends to sign the bill into law.
"I am a big fan of the inland port," Herbert said in an interview. "Utah is ready for an inland port. We are the crossroads of the West."
Despite Salt Lake City leaders' worries that the bill usurps administrative land-use decisions in nearly 20,000 acres of Salt Lake City — a claim House Speaker Greg Hughes disputes — Herbert said a veto of the bill isn't on the table.
"I don't know that it rises to that level," the governor said, though he did note there may be some tweaks in its establishment because of concern.
SB234, which creates a the Utah Inland Port Authority to oversee the development of nearly 20,000 acres of Salt Lake City's last developable swath of land, passed both the House and the Senate Wednesday night after little debate — even though much of the bill contained new language city leaders were still scrambling to review.
The sweeping changes were "substantially different" from what city officials and state lawmakers had been working on as part of the city's "continuous good faith efforts," Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski said in a statement Thursday.
The bill, Biskupski said, "eliminated the city's land-use authority, compromised environmental protections and took all tax increment" of the port authority's area with a board that has "complete lack of accountability."
"The city will no longer be able to make decisions on nearly one-third of Salt Lake City land," Biskupski said. "Yet the bill still leaves the city with the obligation to provide municipal services to the area, such as public safety and street maintenance, without a revenue source to pay for these additional services."
The Utah League of Cities and Towns was also "frustrated" with the bill as it was passed Wednesday night "because it violates several core principles of local government," including land use and tax authority, said the league's executive director, Cameron Diehl.
"It's the taking control of a large swath of the city without the city's consent," Diehl said.
But Hughes, who has largely driven the creation of a state inland port, disputes city claims that SB234 removes city land-use decisions, arguing cities can still make land use and zoning decisions.
"The bill that was passed last night has a lot of the concessions (Salt Lake City) was asking for — total land-use authority, control, all those things are in the bill that passed last night," Hughes said.
"Now you can say this is lip service, but I'm telling you we're memorializing this in the bill, to work in concert with applicable state and local government entities, property owners and other private parties, we say this in the bill over and over," he added.
But the city concerns that the port authority board would be able to override administrative land-use decisions through an appeal panel (which is also made up of the board). That appeal panel remained in the version signed by Hughes and Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, Thursday.
Hughes conceded that Salt Lake City was not apprised of the new version of the bill made public late Wednesday night when the House sponsor took to the floor to adopt the substitute — with changes that not only cut the city's representation on the board from three to two, but also allowed the port authority to capture 100 percent of the tax increment on property taxes from new development.
Hughes said it came to that because he became "frustrated" after Salt Lake City leaders remained firmly opposed to multiple versions of the bill, and as the city's position "got stronger and stronger" he became "worried that the idea was just to run out the clock and just not get anything accomplished."
"They were opposed from the onset," Hughes said. "I never saw that common ground as language kept being put in to try and gain that support ... We were never getting there."
On cutting the mayor's appointments — leaving the city's only seats to the chair of the Salt Lake City Airport Advisory Board and a member of the City Council — Hughes said: "Well, (Biskuspski) really hated the bills that had her in it."
"She hated every version she was in," the speaker said. "I wasn't getting anywhere."
The bill's changes also gave the Utah Department of Transportation and West Valley City a seat at the board and increased Salt Lake County's seats from one to two.
Boundaries were also changed to include an estimated 2,000 acres in West Valley City and Magna, located near state Route 201 with a southern boundary beginning at the intersection of 5600 West and the Riter Canal.
West Valley City Manager Wayne Pyle said "this was a surprise to us," and "we were brought in at the very last second just like everyone else," but West Valley is supportive.
"It absolutely could be very good for West Valley," he said. "Honestly, as we're considering this, we'd rather be involved in it rather than not be involved."
Pyle declined to discuss specifics, but said the city was "approached" in the last several days by state officials asking if West Valley would be interested in joining.
Pyle also declined to name what specific businesses would be included in the port authority, but he did say the parcels "made sense for an inland port authority concept" because they're for manufacturing and distribution industrial uses.
Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams — who told the Deseret News in January he strongly believes any land use or zoning decisions need to remain under the city's control — said "for the most part the bill is fair."
"I think while I certainly recognize the concerns, I think they may be a little overstated," McAdams said, noting that the port authority's capturing of tax increment is "not that different than most other economic development incentives we negotiate."24 comments on this story
"Salt Lake County never agrees to economic incentive that doesn't have accountability as to what happens with land use, and it's built into all of our agreements, so I guess it's not as groundbreaking... I don't think it sets the negative precedent others are worried about."
However, McAdams added he "certainly respects" Salt Lake City's concerns.
"While we'd love to see consensus between the city and the state, that didn't happen," he said. "But the next steps now is to move forward and make this as successful as possible."
Contributing: Amy Joi O'Donoghue